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Colander v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 31, 2017



          SIDNEY I. SCHENKIER United States Magistrate Judge.

         Linda Colander has filed a complaint against Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife") alleging that when it denied her claim for life insurance proceeds, MetLife committed breach of contract (doc. # 1: Mot. to Remove, Ex. B: Compl.).[2] MetLife has filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (doc. # 10). The motion is now fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants MetLife's motion.


         We begin by setting forth the relevant, well-pleaded facts in the complaint, as well as its attached exhibits and the life insurance plans at issue (which, for reasons we explain below, we may consider on this motion to dismiss).

         While working at Deloitte LLP, plaintiffs husband, Charles Colander, had $316, 000.00 in optional group life insurance coverage as part of his employee welfare benefits plan with Deloitte LLP ("Deloitte Plan") (Compl., Ex. 7: MetLife 05/31/2016 Letter at 2). In the event a person's employment with Deloitte ends due to total disability while that person is insured under the Deloitte Plan, that person could be eligible for "extension of basic life insurance, " for which no premium payment is required (doc. #11: MetLife's Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A: Deloitte Plan at 52, 56). Alternatively, if a person's employment with Deloitte ends for any reason, that person may be eligible for continuation of insurance with premium payment through a "portability" option which would "port" (or transfer) the person's insurance coverage to a supplemental life insurance plan (Id. at 36-37), The Deloitte Plan states that MetLife will not pay insurance under both the Deloitte Plan and a portable plan, and that to receive payment under the Deloitte Plan, any portable plan policy certificate must be "surrendered" to MetLife (Id. at 57).

         On November 3, 2014, Mr. Colander went on disability leave. He applied for and was approved to continue his life insurance coverage under the Deloitte Plan's total disability waiver of premium provision (MetLife 05/31/2016 Letter at 2). On August 28, 2015, Mr. Colander elected to accelerate his Deloitte Plan, and he received a payment of 80 percent of its value --$252, 800.00 (Id.). On September 7, 2015, he was terminated as an active employee at Deloitte due to disability; at that time, he had $63, 200.00 in his Deloitte Plan coverage remaining (Id.).

         On October 30, 2015, MetLife sent an application to Mr. Colander for portable term life insurance coverage in the amount of $324, 000.00 (Compl., at ¶ 6; Compl., Ex. 1). Mr. Colander submitted the application, and on December 22, 2015, MetLife sent a letter stating that it processed his portable term life insurance election, giving Mr. Colander optional life coverage in the amount of $324, 000.00, effective October 10, 2015 (Compl., Ex. 1). We refer to this life insurance policy as the "Portable Plan" (MetLife's Mem., Ex. B: Portable Plan). Plaintiff was listed as the 100 percent beneficiary for the Portable Plan (Id., Ex. 2).

         The Portable Plan states that the Certificate holder, in this case Charles Colander (Compl., Ex. 3), "means a person who was covered under a Former Plan on whose account insurance is in effect. . ." (Portable Plan at 8). The "Former Plan" is defined as "the group plan insured by Us [MetLife] under which You [the certificate holder] were provided the option or privilege of continuing the insurance provided under such plan. Such insurance must have ended as set forth in the provisions of such plan, which specify that continued insurance will be provided under another group policy" (Id. at 9). Coverage under the Portable Plan was "dependent on [Mr. Colander's] continuing eligibility, as defined in the group certificate" (Compl., Ex. 2). In other words, Mr. Colander was only eligible for life insurance coverage under the Portable Plan if the coverage provided under his Former Plan - the Deloitte Plan - ended (Portable Plan at 9). Furthermore, the Portable Plan states that if the participant - Mr. Colander - became entitled to a death benefit under his Former Plan, his coverage under the Portable Plan would end (Id. at 22).

         In the beginning of January 2016, Mr. Colander sent a check to MetLife for $1, 533.79, the premium due on the Portable Plan (Compl., at ¶ 15). He died later in January 2016 (Compl., at ¶¶ 16, 19).[3] On January 25, 2016, plaintiff informed MetLife of her husband's death, and on January 28, 2016, MetLife sent a letter requesting certain documents regarding plaintiffs "expected claim amount" for $324, 000.00 (Id., at ¶¶ 17-18 and Ex. 6). On February 3, 2016, plaintiff completed and returned the requested documents (Compl., at ¶ 19). On February 29, 2016, payment was made under the Deloitte Plan in the amount of $63, 200.00 (MetLife 05/31/2016 Letter at 2), the balance of the amount of coverage remaining under the Deloitte Plan after the accelerated payment in September 2015. On March 15, 2016, MetLife denied plaintiffs claim for $324, 000.00 under the Portable Plan (Compl., at ¶ 20). She appealed that decision (Id., at ¶ 22), and MetLife upheld the denial (MetLife 05/31/2016 Letter at 2).[4]


         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, we construe plaintiffs complaint in the light most favorable to her, accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff. White v. Keely, 814 F.3d 883, 887-88 (7th Cir. 2016). While the Court is generally limited to considering the allegations in the complaint on a motion to dismiss, "a court may consider, in addition to the allegations set forth in the complaint itself, documents that are attached to the complaint, documents that are central to the complaint and are referred to in it, and information that is properly subject to judicial notice." Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2013).

         Here, plaintiff attached seven exhibits to her complaint in support of her claim that MetLife breached its obligations under the Portable Plan: (1) five pages of correspondence from MetLife to plaintiff or her husband dated between December 2015 and July 2016, (2) a "certificate specifications page" from the Portable Plan, and (3) a monthly statement from the Portable Plan. In its motion to dismiss papers, MetLife attached a more complete copy of the Portable Plan as well as a copy of the Deloitte Plan (MetLife's Mem., Exs. A and B).

         Plaintiff argues that this Court should not consider the documents attached to her complaint or MetLife's memorandum, or that the Court should only consider the portions of the documents to which plaintiff cites in support of her claim (doc. # 21: Pl.'s Resp. to MetLife's Mot. to Dismiss at 2). We disagree. A court "is not bound to accept the pleader's allegations as to the effect of the exhibit, but can independently examine the document and form its own conclusions as to the proper construction and meaning to be given the material." Burke v. 401 N. Wabash Venture, LLC, 714 F.3d 501, 505 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "[D]istrict courts are free to consider any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiffs claim . . . includ[ing] exhibits attached to the complaint or documents referenced in the pleading if they are central to the claim." Bogie v. Rosenberg, 705 F.3d 603, 609 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         With respect to the seven exhibits plaintiff attached to her complaint, she "has not only cited [these documents] in the body of her complaint, but she has, to some degree, relied on their contents as support for her claims, " and there is no "indication from her-be it in the complaint or the briefing-that the documents are not genuine or that they have been falsified in some way." Williamson, 714 F.3d at 436. We thus ...

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